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Parting gift: wage hike and road relief
Rural raise falls short of rates in many states

Meghna Patel, an actress who has performed in a video in support of Narendra Modi, wears a dress pock-marked with his pictures. It is not clear if Patel has the backing of the BJP, which had earlier threatened to take legal action if anyone is found to be defaming its leaders. (PTI picture)

New Delhi, March 4: The UPA has hiked wages for national job scheme workers by 4-18 per cent in what appears to be a “parting gift” before the elections, but failed to match “arbitrary” revisions in minimum wages for agricultural labourers in 12 states, including Bengal.

According to the new wage rates under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act, an MGNREGA labourer in Haryana will get Rs 236 a day, the highest, while one in Meghalaya will get Rs 153, the lowest. The rates take effect next month.

The revision has been calculated by linking the MGNREGA wage rate to the consumer price index for agricultural labourers (CPIAL) in a particular state. According to the revised rates, the increase in Kerala is 18 per cent and in Maharashtra 4 per cent.

Rural development ministry officials said CPIAL refers to inflation, which varies from state to state. The wage rate has seen about 10 per cent increase in eastern Indian states like Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam.

The MGNREGA wage rate in Bengal has been revised to Rs 169 from Rs 151 this year. In Odisha, it has gone up to Rs 164 from Rs 143; in Assam to Rs 167 from Rs 152; and in Bihar and Jharkhand to Rs 158 from Rs 138.

Despite the revision, MGNREGA workers in 12 states and Union territories stand to get less than the minimum wages fixed by respective states. These are Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep.

The minimum wages fixed by the state governments in Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand stand at Rs 193, Rs 170 and Rs 167 respectively.

In Odisha and Assam, the MGNREGA workers stand to get more. The minimum wages fixed by the governments of Odisha and Assam are Rs 150 and Rs 120 respectively.

A faculty member at the National Institute of Rural Development, a think tank on rural development issues, said some states “arbitrarily” revised minimum wages and some were too slow in revising it, leading to the wide difference in rates.

When the national job scheme was started in 2006, the minimum wage for agricultural labourers in each state was taken as the standard wage for MGNREGA workers. However, in 2008, the Centre decided to revise the MGNREGA wage rate by indexing it to CPIAL.

“The Union government is following CPIAL indexation to revise the MGNREGA wage rate. But state governments do not follow any indexation methodology. They do it arbitrarily. While some states are overactive and revise their wage rate twice a year, many do not bother to revise it even once,” the faculty member said.

The continuous revision of wages has boosted rural liquidity, a Planning Commission official said. A recent report of the Planning Commission suggests 15 per cent people have come out of poverty between 2004 and 2012. The expenditure on consumer goods by rural households has increased during this period.

The discrepancy in wage rates was challenged by an NGO in Karnataka High Court, which held that wages under MGNREGA cannot be less than the minimum wage fixed by state governments. The Centre has challenged this in the Supreme Court.

If the minimum wage of an agricultural labourer is adopted as the wage under MGNREGA, it will adversely affect the interest of MGNREGA workers in states that have failed to periodically increase the minimum wages, the Centre has said.